Hindus around the world will begin celebrating the festival of Janmashtami, or Krishna Janmashtami, today, Thursday, August 18.
The event honours the birth of Krishna, believed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism.
What time is Janmashtami this year?
The occasion is observed on the eighth day of Krishna Paksha or the waning moon, according to the Hindu calendar. This year, it falls today, Thursday, with the auspicious time beginning at 9.20pm and ending at 10.59pm on Friday.
According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born at midnight in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. Owing to a threat to his life from his uncle, the tyrant King Kamsa, Krishna’s father took him across the Yamuna river to Nanda and Yashoda, who became his foster parents, for safekeeping.
How is Janmashtami celebrated?
Janmashtami is a bank holiday in most parts of India.
Celebrations include dance performances such as the Ras lila, and pujas, or prayers, being held. Devotees traditionally fast throughout the day and observe symbolic vigils at night by singing songs in temples and homes. They then share food at midnight.
Temples dedicated to Krishna also make prasad, or devotional food offerings, and it is believed the deity arrives at midnight to savour them.
Children are often dressed as little Krishna on the day.
What is Dahi Handi?
A competitive event where an earthen pot filled with yoghurt is hung at a height and men and boys form a human pyramid in order to reach it, the sport is one of the major attractions during Janmashtami celebrations. It is also called Utlotsavam in some parts of South India.
According to legend, as a toddler, a mischievous Krishna — who was known for his love of butter and yoghurt — used to steal them from his neighbours. His embarrassed mother then asked her neighbours to put their freshly-churned butter and yoghurt and hang them at a height so the youngster couldn't reach them. Krishna is then believed to have employed the help of his friends to form human pyramids and stolen the food.
These days, the event can feature lavish prizes and major sponsors.
In 2012, a nine-tier human pyramid in Mumbai that reached 13.4 metres in height made it into the Guinness World Records.
Some devotees also adorn their homes with tiny footprints outside their doors to signify Krishna’s arrival and decorate their houses with statues of a baby Krishna in a cradle.
What is Ras lila?
The Ras lila is a folkloric dance that tells the story of Krishna’s youth and his love for Radha. A group of cowherds, known as gopis, who are enamoured by the sounds of Krishna’s flute and sneak away from their homes to dance with him, also form part of the storytelling.
Ras lila is also a major theme in many of India’s classical dances including the Kathakali, Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri.